5.4: Better learning for persons with dyslexia or reading and writing difficulties

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Study skills topics

1. Concept maps and mind maps
2. Drawing
3. Writing and spelling
4. Reading
5. Studying

Study skills

Figure 1 – Study skills (from Eva Gyarmathy – The dyslexic learner)

Since the main information processing method of the dyslexic mind is global (simultaneous and visual), effective learning should be based on this. Pictures, figures, diagrams and other visual tools have to have a place in learning.

  • You need to have an overview of a material in order to master it.
  • You need to see the structure of the material in order to handle the details.
  • Methods requiring the use of the whole of the brain are helpful:
  • Concept maps
  • Imagination, visualisation
  • Pictures and text together, linking the material to pictures etc.
  • You like to discuss new concepts thoroughly, so that they will not be vague and blurred.
  • Start out from specific examples and proceed to the general concepts through them. It is then possible to interpret the concepts using specific examples.
  • You need more time to prepare written material.
  • You find processing longer texts difficult.
  • Explanations should be as short as possible.
  • Long written materials does not help learning.
  • You often find it difficult to maintain attention. Therefore, you study better if you can do various activities in the meantime.
  • Technical tools help a lot in learning.

    Activity 8:
    Go the local store and buy 500 ml of vinegar. Go home and put the bottle in the cupboard. Now try to remember how the bottle looks like. Can you describe it?

    1. Concept maps and mind maps

    The concept map or a mind map is a visual representation that charts the material on one page. Visual representation helps in remembering the material. In drawing the main branches, the important aspects of the topic get highlighted and the material will receive visual structure.

    Figure 2 – Mind map example (from Eva Gyarmathy – The dyslexic learner)

    A few rules in drawing a mind map are worth observing, since they contribute to the efficiency.

  • The layout of the paper should be landscape, since this is the position that best fits our visual field.
  • Capital letters are used, because they are easier to remember and are stored in a pictorial way.
  • A proper mind map starts with a central picture of the theme.
  • From this, the lines of the main topics branch off, which can, in turn, be divided into subtopics.
  • Write on the lines starting from the centre, because they make the picture ordered and easy to follow.
  • The 45° rule: Do not write at a greater angle, since a text with an inclination of more than 45° does read well and hinders remembering the material.
  • Colours help remembering and can highlight and emphasize. They also make figures more beautiful, pleasing to the eye and more agreeable to learn.
  • Pictures and drawings carry a lot of information: one picture can be worth a hundred words. Less writing is needed and it is easier to remember.
  • Signs and codes help orientation and can interpret information.

    Figure 3 – Advantages of concept maps (from Eva Gyarmathy – The dyslexic learner)

    Concept maps are efficient tools for learning and thinking. It is a perfect tool for organizing thoughts, gathering ideas and summarizing knowledge relating to given topics, as well. Besides being holistic, it also gives an overview of the structure of the topic.

    What cannot be written on one page, is not worth writing down. When a topic is more complex, then its parts should be represented on separate maps. Thereby, usable bits of whole will be remembered.

    Activity 9:
    Google some free mind-mapping tools on the internet and try them out.

    2. Drawings

    Drawing a given concept or piece of knowledge helps a lot in understanding and, consequently, in remembering it. Everything can be drawn, since our imagination – as the word itself indicates – works with images. Our knowledge is in many respects produced by our imagination on the basis of pictures.

    Activity 10:
    Draw dyslexia.

    3. Writing and spelling

    It can happen, that while you concentrate on the writing and the spelling, the content will decrease. Conversely, if you concentrate on the spelling and content, the handwriting quality may decrease. This is one reason why computers have been such a bonus for learners with dyslexia and other difficulties.

    Although in theory when using a word processor, the problem of spell checking is solved, in practice you still need to be reasonably close to have a chance of finding the right words in a list of alternatives. One way to overcome this is to use a look-up dictionary which also shows the meaning. This will give a greater chance that the right word is used.

    High-quality writing is possible despite poorer spelling. Use a concept map.

    Also a digital recorder can be used to store the ideas.

    Activity 11:
    Check if you have a spell check in English installed on your computer. If not, install one or use a free spell-checking program online.

    4. Reading

    There are at least three types of reading:

    1. Skimming reading – getting a general picture of the material

    It is worth concentrating mainly on visually prominent elements in the text. Figures, diagrams, pictures, subtitles, bold texts and words can help. Based on these, one can form a general picture of the material. Thereby, one knows what the text is about without having read it.
    In the case of shorter texts without visually prominent elements, one has to rely solely on words.

    2. Scanning reading – looking for information

    Not all words have to be read; the point is to find the elements that are relevant for the topic of the search. The eye scans the text, while the brain selects the relevant parts.

    3. Word by word reading – reading a text thoroughly

    It is the traditional way of reading through a text. One has to form whole pictures and ideas based on details and verbal material.

    In the case of text comprehension difficulties, all three types of reading are worth using. Success with reading will decrease anxieties about written texts.

    Activity 12:
    • Read an article in a newspaper using skimming reading.
    • Read only words.
    • Ask someone to check whether you got the point right.
    • Read formal letters using the three types of reading.

    You can change the format of the text on the computer to a more readable form. The main characteristics of text for more readable printed materials are:

  • short lines,
  • Arial, or perhaps Comic Sans fonts of size 12,
  • cream or pale yellow-coloured paper,
  • legible, but not high contrast coloured letters.

    5. Studying

    The most important part of learning is getting an overview of the material. Therefore, all learning should begin with summarising the material. It is much easier to make a picture from its parts when one knows what the overall picture is like than when one has to guess what it is like based on the small parts.

    Figure 4 – Phases of studying (from Eva Gyarmathy – The dyslexic learner)

    Skimming through – gathering the material. Skimming through it, the amount and complexity of the material can be estimated. Plans can be made based on this.

    Timing – organizing time. Periods spent with learning can be planned, including breaks and monitoring progress.

    Arrangement – developing the ideal circumstances. Both the environment and the method of learning should be adapted to one’s individual learning style.

    Mobilization – recalling knowledge relating to the material. It is worth asking questions and stirring up one’s imagination about the material.

    The implementation phase consists of processing and acquiring the material:

    Overview – one can acquaint oneself with the material using skim reading. The task in this phase is to get an overview and see the main points. Frames can be identified based on diagrams, pictures, subtitles etc. – chiefly visually prominent elements – used in skimming reading. One can study with or without a c-map, but getting an overview and seeing the structure is essential.

    Frames – selecting the main topics. The task is to identify and highlight the main points. These define the frames for the material. On the c-map, the goal is drawing the main branches.

    Filling in – appropriate information can be gathered into the frames using scan reading. Knowledge relating to the keywords and mental pictures of the relevant concepts can be of help. On the c-map, sub-branches, drawings and other important information have to be represented.

    Trying out – one has to check whether one managed to acquire the material. During the try out, there is a chance of linking sounds and movements to the material. This is the time to check whether the appropriate keywords were selected and whether they recall the relevant parts of the material. If needed, the c-map can be modified or complemented, in order to provide most knowledge. Trying out also helps remembering.

    This structure of studying can be used in complex learning situations, such as studying for exams.

    Activity 13:
    Skim through the text below and recount what is about. Read only the words. Collect some of them from here and there.

    Agate (Brasilia): The type of chalcedony most in demand for industrial working. One of its main characteristics is banded colouring. Different shades of red, brown, white, blue and grey stripes alternate with each other with sharp boundaries between them. It is easy to colour it or to enhance its colours artificially. Gelic layers colour more than crystalline ones, which emphasizes its striped appearance. Before painting it, the stone is carefully rubbed and polished on fast spinning discs. Jewellery and various other ornaments are made from them. Agates can be found in cavities of volcanic rocks. The cavities that are filled and can be loaf-, pear- or almond-shaped, their size varying from about the size of a pea to several metres across. Agate (achates) was named after the river Achates in Sicily, where the stone was first found amidst pebbles. The most famous specimen were found in Brasilia, but its places of occurrence include India, North America and a few places Europe (e.g., Germany).

    Write five main topics on the main branches of the c-map.

      Download as PDF

    Print out the pdf file and fill in the frames with important details.

    Case study

    A young dyslexic lady visited the out-patients’ department, her problem being that she cannot read, but would like to acquire a degree in higher education. Although she is able to read written texts more or less fluently, she does not understand what she has read. In school, she used to learn everything by heart without understanding what she has learned. That way, she even managed to obtain a school leaving exam.

    She enrolled in a university, but she soon found out that it is impossible to learn using her old method, when she had to read several books.

    The solution seemed impossible, but the lady had help. Her husband was willing to read the books and prepare notes of a few pages length. The dyslexic lady could handle these notes more easily, but it remained a problem that she could not understand the sentences.

    As a first step, she learned skimming and scanning reading. She was surprised that she understood half a page of text, even though she only read words and inferred the content. Her husband checked it, and it turned out that she always grasped the essence well.

    Then she learned to learn using a c-map. She made a figure of every part of the material, using many pictures and signs. She took the exams using these. She passed all the exams with average results, except for one subject, where the exam consisted of multiple-choice questions.

    Unfortunately, multiple-choice questions are the death of learners with dyslexicas, since they are unable to interpret either the questions or the answers.


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